Dear Dawg: Long time school librarian here, trying to make sense of H.B. 900 and what I need to do to make sure we are in compliance. I’m sure you know about the controversy, Dawg. We have folks who think our school libraries are smut factories, and now our legislators have taken action to fix this problem. I’ve worked hard to keep inappropriate materials out of our libraries, and will continue to do so, but I am a little puzzled by some of the new terminology I’m hearing. What makes a book “sexually explicit”? What makes it “sexually relevant”? I understand that our books are going to be rated based on these terms. Can we put up a curtain in the library, to divide it into these two sections:
SEXUALLY RELEVANT BOOKS SEXUALLY IRRELEVANT BOOKS
Is there a better way to handle this? MARIAN THE LIBRARIAN NEVER HAD TO DEAL WITH THIS!
DEAR MARIAN THE LIBRARIAN NEVER: The good news for you is that you will not be the one to rate the books in your library. H.B. 900 passes this hot potato to the vendors who sell the books to the schools. They will have to identify any material that is “sexually explicit” and they may not sell stuff like that to a school library. Moreover, they have to issue a “recall” notice, like a car manufacturer after a problem with the exhaust system is discovered. If the vendor identifies “sexually explicit” materials that they previously sold to you and that is in “active use” you can expect a “recall notice.”
I hesitate to provide the full definition of “sexually explicit” material in this family friendly publication. But it has to be pretty nasty. It has to describe, portray, or depict sexual conduct in a way that is “patently offensive.” This has to be based on a “contextual analysis” recognizing that there may be “contextual characteristics that may exacerbate or mitigate the offensiveness of the material.”
“Sexually relevant” material is defined as material in any format that “describes, depicts, or portrays sexual conduct” as that term is defined in the Penal Code. Again, I hesitate to be too graphic with the legal terminology, but suffice it to say that there will be a lot of material that fits this definition. If a single act of sexual intercourse is described, depicted or portrayed on one page of a 350-page novel, the entire book is “sexually relevant.” This leads to a lot of questions. What if the act is not described, depicted, or portrayed, but is hinted at…suggested…left to the reader’s imagination?
Like when Rhett picks up Scarlet and carries her up that staircase at Tara. We all know what’s about to happen, don’t we? And when we see Miss Scarlet brushing her hair the next morning, we know what just happened…..don’t we?
So how bout that? Sexually relevant? There are sure to be many lively debates over “sexually relevant.”
We don’t think a curtain separating the material is a good idea, but you are going to have to develop some method of restricting student access to the “sexually relevant” stuff.
There is a lot more to H.B. 900 and I’m sure we will dive into this one in detail at the Back to School tour this fall (www.ed311.com for registration). It will take quite a while before we get standards from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, regulations from T.E.A., and the ratings from the vendors to help us comply with this Brave New World. (Sexually relevant? If I remember correctly, I think yes).
In the meantime, the most important thing to do is to know your school policy and follow it. Your school board has adopted a policy addressing parent complaints about library materials. Find it. Know what it says. Follow it.
DAWG BONE: IF A PARENT COMPLAINS, SAY “WE HAVE A POLICY ABOUT THAT. LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT IT.”
Got a question or comment for the Dawg? Let me hear from you at email@example.com.
Tomorrow: have you been presented with a Notice and Declaration of Parental Rights?